Category: Word of the Year
how does your garden grow?
It never rains but it pours.
Those old tried and true phrases sure are tried and true. My kids love them, especially AppleApple, who is a word-fascinated child, and a writer in the making. Here is a funny poem she wrote recently: “I dropped a glass upon the floor / My mom came charging like a boar / Now I have an extra chore / To pick that glass up off the floor.”
“You captured me very accurately,” I said. (I hate messes; I probably do charge exactly like a boar when I hear the sound of a giant mess being made.)
“But I don’t really have chores to do,” said AppleApple.
Well, we all make things up. If you’d like to hear about the things that I make up, you can come to the Waterloo Public Library this evening at 7pm. I plan to read a story I’ve not read before, and will also be answering questions like, Did that really happen? What’s true? What’s invented?
It is raining and pouring very nice things these past few days. It is raining writing work, frankly, and I’m pleased. Some of the work I’ve been doing is essentially invisible. I’ve even taken on work minus a byline because the pay is good. Perhaps as a proud writer, I should not confess such things. I work just as hard on every single task, whether or not I’m getting credit, due to my obsesssive-compulsive character. But then, I work just as hard on learning how to kick a soccer ball, truth be told. It would be nice to be able to regulate this dial, to turn down the inner perfectionist, but hey. It’s brought me here. I accept it.
Not to get too far off topic, but I’d like to share my theory about work. I figure I’m about a decade behind where I would have been, had I stayed at my job at the National Post. And I’m not fussy about it, or regretful in the least, because those were years well-spent with my children, and yes, I did continue to write fiction throughout. But I also accept that I have catch-up work to do, and experiences to gain, and therefore I’m willing to take jobs that are not particularly glamourous. Experience is experience. I would like to be an excellent interviewer, and I would like to write stories that dig deep into subjects that call out to be explored, to have light shone upon. Those are my goals. This is the path I’m choosing.
As a proud writer, I’m also thrilled to share the news that I’ve been invited to the Vancouver International Writers Festival in October. Insert large paragraph of exclamation marks, here:
I’ll also be at the Winnipeg Writers Festival in September, and Eden Mills Writers Fest also in September. And Word on the Street here in Kitchener. It will be a busy fall.
Meantime, back to work. I’ve got some interviews to do.
:: Practicing matters. And you can practice anywhere. (She’s practicing, on her lap, the song she’s memorized and is about to perform.)
:: Being willing to try matters. Signing up for an extra recital, in preparation for a more intense competition next week. Wearing a new dress (and running shoes; just in case). Brushing your hair.
:: Being supportive matters. Even when the recital is long. Even when there are no snacks. Even when you have to do everything imaginable to keep quiet. (Toward the end, CJ was making silent faces to entertain himself; by the last performance he was literally whacking himself on the head repeatedly, but kind of quietly. So he made it through.)
:: Performing matters. Getting up in front of an audience. Doing your best. Sharing what you’ve learned. (At this point in any recital in which any of my children have ever played, I start to cry. It’s involuntary, and happy, but I do try to rein myself in, lest I embarrass the performer.)
On this third day of writing week, I am reminded of a few more things that matter, a great deal, to me.
:: Exercise matters. Note to self: no matter how you may want to, do not sit for two days straight without taking time to go outside and move. And breathe.
:: Perspective matters. It’s hard to get perspective inside a room with a closed door. See above, plus add in kids and friends and husband.
:: Kindness and gratitude matter. I can’t write what I want to write by force.
:: Preparation matters. I am at the beginning of a project, not the middle, not the end. Here are some metaphors. You can’t go into labour if you’re not even pregnant. And, the work I need to do now is like composting. Layering information, layering ideas. It looks like waste at this stage. It won’t look so good, either, when it starts to rot. But given time, and turning, it will become rich soil. And then I can plant a new garden.
Read between the lines, and you’ll guess. This is/will be a tough week. But I’d like to note two lovely and unexpected things that have happened so far.
:: On this third day of my writing week, I wrote a new song.
:: Yesterday, the power went out, and I wrote for several hours with pen and paper. I liked it a lot. No distractions.
Today, I am experimenting. Can I compartmentalize and work on two projects at the same time? I am going to attempt to develop my new character (ie. creative, not-yet-for-profit work), even while keeping several irons in the fire for a freelance piece I’m writing (ie. less creative work-for-pay). The new book, of course, has no due date, no deadline. The freelance piece does. I am obsessive about meeting deadlines (not necessarily a bad thing); except I’m so obsessive that I frequently meet deadlines well ahead of schedule. And honestly, I’m not concerned about meeting this one. I know I can do it. Things are moving along nicely. I know this. Still, my instinct is to worry it until it’s done. Thing is, I can’t finish this morning. There are interviews yet to do and other people’s schedules to take into account. More to the point, I don’t need to finish this morning. The deadline isn’t until next week.
So. Can I step back, set it aside, not worry about it, and work productively on something completely different?
As I say, it’s an experiment. It had better work, because, frankly, this could be my life for a long long time. It already is my life, you say? What with the children, and the cooking, and the triathlon training, and the book-writing? It’s funny, but those things all fit together in a long-term way that doesn’t trouble me. They’re all part of a steady routine, an ebb and flow that isn’t exactly predictable, and yet seems symbiotic somehow. More of this, less of that; more of that, less of this.
If I don’t write a blog post today, I’ll write one tomorrow. If supper is on the table late, well, eat some crackers and cheese, kids. If I have to drop a writing day to take a kid to the doctor, my book doesn’t know it. In all of these circumstances, I’m flexible. But give me a deadline and I focus to the point of compulsion. Hm. Maybe this goes back to childhood: feeling a sense of responsibility as the eldest of five, wanting to please, anxious over any perceived failure, stomach in knots if we were late for school. I was “high-strung.” Maybe, maybe, in some circumstances I still am.
My goal for today: Trust myself. I will get the job done. All in good time. And meantime, there is other work to be done, and it’s just as valuable, even if invisible.
Yesterday, a client of Kevin’s brought him a ripped-out page from the latest issue of Elle Canada. “Tracking the best in movies, books, music and art,” says the page. “This month, we’re inspired by free spirits.” And there is The Juliet Stories! I love that Juliet is being identified as a free spirit. (Wasn’t “spirit” my word of the year when I was writing Juliet?) There’s a dark side to being a free spirit, of course, and I suppose that’s partly what the book is about; but sometimes I wish I were more free of spirit — colourful, creative, adventurous, alive. Writing is my window into all those things I couldn’t actually be.
Finally, two exciting reading discoveries.
1. CJ is “reading” to us. I’m pretty sure he’s essentially repeating memorized text, but he links the words on the page with the words he’s saying. Out and about, he notices and reads signs (STOP is a good one), and he notices words and points out letters and letter sounds that he knows. Exciting!
2. Fooey read bedtime stories to CJ last night. For the record, I still love reading bedtime stories to the kids, but I’m not always available — last night I was walking Albus home from piano lessons. I got home in time to hear the tail-end of the last story, and give goodnight kisses. Sweet.
Before her recital yesterday, she displayed all of the emotions so familiar to anyone who has ever been asked to get up and perform. Why had she signed up? Why had I made her sign up? (I hadn’t.) She wasn’t going to do it. No one could make her.
I quickly deduced that the growls and howls were nerve-induced, and did my best not to be too peeved (even while dressing her, which she insisted I do, and which set my teeth on edge having just read a piece in the newspaper about my generation’s ridiculous parenting methods that cater to our children’s every need). Anxiety does unpleasant things to most of us, and when it’s a new feeling, of course we don’t know how to cope.
So my goal was to keep her going, get her there, reassure her (even while wondering, gee, has she actually practiced enough??).
And then she played with complete confidence. She smiled, she introduced herself, her fingers met the keys firmly, and she bowed afterward grinning from ear to ear. Had I been another parent watching, I might have envied having such an apparently confident and well-prepared child. I would have been wrong, of course; she was as roiling with nerves as any of the others, and she rose to the occasion, playing better than I’d ever heard her play at home. Mysterious things, performances. It’s fascinating to see what gets drawn out of us when we’re called on. My heart was pounding with pride.
She was not amused by our April Fool’s joke this morning, however. I told her that she’d been asked to come back and play again today. Only the best performers had been asked, Kevin added. What? No way, nuh uh! Not going! She missed the compliment altogether.
An odd thing happened on Friday afternoon, after I’d posted about feeling aimless and wanting to bring good into the world. I went out for lunch with a friend, then stopped in to say hello to Kevin at his office, then stepped outside again and saw, directly in front of me, not three feet away, an elderly woman struggling with a walker. It took me half a second to reach her, and help her sit and rest. She’d had a fall and was rattled, confused. She’d walked a long way. She could not remember the name of her destination, but could describe it and knew what she was going there to do. Together, after some rest, we set out to find it together, and we did. It cost some time, and little else. She thanked me, but it was I who wanted to thank her. It was a pleasure to be able to help.
Later, reflecting on it at home, I thought about how grateful I was that I’d had the time to stop and help. When I’m rushed (which is often), it is harder to see, to stop, to take time. I also thought about how much I love helping; and I thought, this is what I would like to do with my life. But of course, how often do such situations present themselves, such simple one-to-one equations of need to ability to help? When I think about helping in more formal/institutional settings, it feels more complicated. I question my motives; I question my helpfulness. For example, when I helped this woman find where she was going, that was all I did. I did not delve deeper. I did not get to the root causes or make an attempt to prevent the situation from occurring again. I asked whether she’d been hurt in her fall, and she told me that she was fine, and I accepted that. She said she had family in town (I asked), and I accepted that they would be looking out for her in the future. I sensed that she valued her dignity. At what point does help become meddling? These are boundary questions. I tend to err on the side of caution. Because I don’t know the answers. Not all of them. Not even most of them. All I know is be kind.
There is much need in the world. Patterns recur. Pain fragments. Hurt multiplies. Some problems go deep, deep, deep.
How easy it is to take soup to a sick friend. How easy it is to quietly hug one of my children when he or she is sad. How easy it is to help a lost stranger find her destination. Is helping as simple as that? Or does it — should it — go deeper?
“there was such a moon”
I cheated. This year, I’ve claimed two words. My word-of-the-year friends were skeptical at first, but I swear I saw this online somewhere and it’s allowed. (Are there actual formal rules and guidelines for word-of-the-year? I suppose it is right there in the title, singular, not plural).
My word of the year is work/play.
It was going to be work. Work grabbed me and shook me and said, hey you, this year, you’re going to focus on me. And I replied, sounds good, I’d like that. So I walked around with Work for a week or more, quietly testing it out and accepting it as my word. Except it didn’t seem complete all by its rigorous demanding lonesome. That’s when Play jumped into the mix. Hi there, remember me?
Here’s the thing: in my world, in my being, Work comes naturally. Work is Play. I am easily obsessed by the completion of goals. I like to do things. I throw myself in really deep and sometimes get lost inside of Work. Yes, I want this year to be about Work–about Working, to be precise. But I need to strive for some balance. I need to seek out Play, too, accept it when it comes knocking at my door.
For me, Play is sometimes more like Work. Not always, not precisely, but let me put it this way: I will beeline for my office at the mere suggestion that there’s work to be done; it takes more effort, more convincing, to call me outside to play. Sad but true. It is also true that I could not create what I do without going outside to play. So my work stands to suffer and stagnate without making room, taking time, clearing space, to leap into the spontaneous, the adventuresome, the just plain fun.
One of my word-of-the-year friends told me I should make a “Playlist” (nice!). On the spot, I couldn’t come up with much. Ask me for a Worklist and I’ll get down to business. But what’s on my Playlist? Truthfully, I don’t know yet. Surprise me, Playlist. (For some reason, horseback riding was the one thing that leapt immediately to mind).
I also aim to combine Work and Play this year. They don’t have to stand in opposition to one another. Where do these words align, in my life and yours?
Yesterday held a satisfying mix of work/play. I ran with a friend before dawn; served breakfast, plus made supper in the crockpot; got everyone out the door; napped for 20 minutes; worked on a new song at the piano for half the morning and worked at my desk for the other half; picked up my youngest from nursery school; ran errands; ate lunch; squeezed in a little more writing time while he watched a movie (and no, I won’t apologize for the tactic); picked up the girls early from school for their piano lessons; visited with a friend who works at the same place the girls have their lessons; arrived home to finish making supper and hang laundry; parented some bad meal-time behavior; headed out for supper with my siblings, within walking distance; picked up Albus and walked him (almost all the way) home from his piano lesson; walked to meet with friends over tea to talk about word-of-the-year; and finally, at the end of the day, spent time with Kevin.
I was going to try to categorize each item above as either work or play or work/play, but realized I’m not sure where everything falls. Serving breakfast to my kids can be really fun when we’re all talking together; or it can be a real chore when I’m hungry too and everyone’s grumpy and wants something different and we discover homework that still needs doing, etc. I also realized that there isn’t really room for the critical element of “rest” within work/play. I’m not going to add a third word. But it’s there, lurking behind the scenes. The lack of it gets in the way of both work and play. I don’t care to focus on it, but hope to get enough of it, both mental and physical, this year. (Play seems like mental rest, though, doesn’t it?).
Today I feel overwhelmed. Not by emotion, but by the sheer volume of tasks and appointments and activities, and by trying to keep on top of it all. My google calendar and desktop calendar and beside-the-phone calendar are all working overtime. I keep emailing my husband with more info, more FYIs. At spin class, to which I dragged my aching legs this morning, one of the instructor’s favourite calls of encouragement is: Get on top of it! But as soon as you’re on top, you’re spinning back down and around again. Faster and faster.
I’ve already decided to drop my daily food photo. With early exercise and school and work and making supper before eating breakfast, there is no time to style a plate of leftovers in order to catch the best morning light (see above: waffles, so pretty on Sunday morning). And it can still be a weekend project, aiming for two photos/week.
Back to spin class. I used to hate the fast spins: light and quick. I preferred the seated climbs, digging down, adding resistance, slowing the legs, basically pushing weight with my muscles. But the faster my legs spun around, the more out of control I felt. Here’s what I’ve figured out: the more engaged my core, the faster I can spin. With that central stability to hold me steady, my legs can whirl faster and faster while staying in control. I’m learning to like light and quick.
So what is holding me steady as my life begins to spin again, faster and faster? What’s at the core? What brings me joy and energy and determination–and stability? A bunch of thoughts jump to mind.
* time alone in a quiet house
* little adventures
None of these are going to be my word of the year (to be revealed later this week, after I’ve shared it with my word-of-the-year partners). But there has to be room within the crazy for all of these things. It might mean finding space in the midst of the hurry. It might mean turning inconveniences into opportunities. For example, this afternoon we go from swimming to a soccer practice. Swimming’s for all the kids, but soccer practice is just for one girl; in other words, the little kids have to be dragged along. This could go badly. Bored kids, tired mom. Or it could turn into quiet time spent together, doing things we don’t always have time for: snuggling and reading while we wait. That’s my plan. I can hope for the best, as Albus would say.
News! On the work-related front!
**I’ve seen the full cover for Juliet, and the book is being sent to print later today(!!).
**Next week I’ll head into Toronto to plan publicity with Anansi.
**This week I’m working on a web site to promote the book.
**Last night I sat in my office and listened to the first mix of the song I wrote and recorded for one of my characters in Juliet–my brother, who is a professional musician and producer, did the recording and production. I’m hoping to find some way to connect the two mediums.
**And today I am going to spend my writing time with The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm.
**Also, as some of you may already know, I’ve signed on as an editor/writer for Storywell, a new local business that launches on January 19th. If you live locally, and you are interested in writing, please mark your calendars (desktop, google, beside-the-phone) and come out. Info below. Spread the word.
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